Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Inexpert Opinion

Often when writing an otherwise positive story on e-cigarettes, journalists go looking for someone in the medical profession to supply a quote in opposition to the devices. It’s just too bad that some of these experts don’t bother conducting a modicum of research to determine whether their opinion is supported by the facts.

Take Dr. Jonathan Whiteson of NYU Langone Medical Center. He was recently quoted in a story aired on NY1.

"I think that a lot of people who are promoting e-cigarettes say that it is a safer alternative but there is no evidence to suggest that it is,” stated Whiteson.

While there is no evidence that unequivocally proves that e-cigarettes are a safer alternative, there is evidence that suggests it. In population surveys, 90% of e-cigarette consumers are reporting that their health has improved.

The medical world tends to disbelieve anything that has not been proven in double-blind, placebo controlled clinical trials. No large-scale clinical trials have been conducted yet; however, pilot studies are showing that using an e-cigarette does not raise blood pressure and does not rapidly increase blood levels of nicotine. No serious adverse effects have been reported.

According to Dr. Murray Laugesen, who summarized testing data from seven labs, a puff of e-cigarette vapor “delivers only 10% of the nicotine obtained from a similar puff of a Marlboro cigarette.”

Dr. Laugesen’s report also sheds light on the question of other chemicals in vapor. The vapor was tested for over 50 priority-listed cigarette smoke toxicants. None were found. Furthermore, since e-cigarettes are not burned, vapor does not contain tar, particulates, poisonous gasses, and thousands of chemicals created by the process of combustion. The lack of these hazardous elements probably explains why e-cigarette consumers are reporting health improvements.

So, while Dr. Whiteson’s first statement is at worst, debatable, his next statements are provably false. “As of now, we see it as delivering pure nicotine which is a dangerous drug in itself and it can cause people to become addicted to nicotine. So this is not a product sold to help people come away from cigarettes. It is a product that is sold to addict people to nicotine."

While the nicotine that is present is “pure” in the sense that it is pharmaceutical grade nicotine, e-cigarette liquid is far from 100% nicotine. A cartridge full of nothing but nicotine would be likely to kill the user. On average, nicotine represents about 1.8% of the total amount of liquid present in a cartridge.

Swiss researcher J.F. Etter, and New Zeland researcher Chris Bullen conducted an internet survey on e-cigarettes. Of 3,307 ever-users of e-cigarettes who responded, 187 used the devices without nicotine. Of 2,850 who used an e-cigarette that does contain nicotine, ONE was a never-smoker.

So the poor vendors have to sell 2,849 kits with nicotine and 137 kits without nicotine in order to hook one new nicotine user. At that rate, they will never hook every citizen in the US, because there are only 4 non-smokers to every smoker. If creating new nicotine addicts is the goal, it doesn't seem like a profitable business plan.


  1. Although Dr. Whiteson claimed that e-cigarettes contain "pure nicotine", studies finding detectable levels of tobacco specific nitrosamines show that it is only 99.99995% pure. An e-cigarette cartridge with less than a tenth of a teaspoon of 1.6% "pure" nicotine (.00072g nicotine + .0000000036g nitrosamine) has about HALF the nicotine and 0.36% of the nitrosamine found in a single cigarette, but because it is not lit on fire to create smoke and tar and other toxins, one cartridge can produce as many "puffs" as 10 or more combustible cigarettes.

  2. These "alleged Nicotine doctors/researchers" never ever tell the truth about nicotine no matter what the story or the circumstances are.
    I find that more than a little disgusting and sad that they feel like they have to lie to get folks to listen or pay attention to them to them.

  3. Do you know who conducted the survey that you posted the link to?

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. There are three links to surveys in the post. In order of appearance, they were conducted by the Tobacco Harm Reduction organization, the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association, and by two researchers: Dr. Bullen is from New Zealand, and Dr. Etter is Swiss.